Q&A with Britta Larson, Senior Services Director, Center on Halsted

April 2014 | Britta Larson, Senior Services Director, Center on Halsted

Can you explain what Homesharing is and how the program works?

Homesharing is a shared housing program where compatible matches are facilitated between a renter and a homesharing provider who has an extra bedroom in their apartment, condominium or house. Although each participant has their own bedroom, common areas of the home, such as the living room and kitchen, are shared between them.

Homesharing providers, who are generally LGBT older adults, establish the amount of rent they are looking to receive, which is usually around $500 and includes all utilities. In some cases, renters provide household assistance in exchange for reduced rent. Types of assistance that may be offered include housekeeping, laundry assistance, grocery shopping and meal preparation.

Are there other Homesharing Programs like this one in existence?

Although there are a number of other Homesharing Programs in existence, this Homesharing Program, which began in July 2010, is the first program in the nation that has been designed to meet the unique needs of LGBT older adults.

What are some of the unique needs of LGBT older adults that would enable them to benefit from this program?

LGBT older adults are twice as likely to be single and three to four times more likely to be without children than their heterosexual counterparts. In addition, most senior living communities are not LGBT affirming and many LGBT older adults fear discrimination in this setting. The household assistance that renters can provide to LGBT older adults through this program can help them remain in their own home and age in place.

After a lifetime of unequal treatment under the law, many LGBT older adults are experiencing financial hardships. The additional revenue that the Homesharing provider receives from the rent can be tremendously beneficial for seniors on a fixed income.

Lastly, social isolation among LGBT older adults is common as their support systems dwindle as they age. The companionship they receive from their renter can reduce loneliness and isolation. Furthermore, by participating in the Homesharing Program, their connection to Center on Halsted remains strong.

Can you discuss more about the safety considerations you have ensured in the design of this program?

The safety and security of every Homesharing participant is incredibly important. This program has been designed to include multiple layers of safety precautions. For example, all applicants complete a rigorous screening process which includes background and reference checks and personal interviews. In addition, Center on Halsted monitors each Homesharing match once they are living together. Through monthly check-ins we maintain regular contact with each match and provide additional support as needed.

What are the requirements to participate?

Although this program has been designed around the needs of LGBT older adults, the program follows all fair housing laws and anyone over the age of 18 is welcome to apply. For renters, there is an additional income requirement to ensure that they are able to meet their monthly obligations to the Homesharing Provider.

How is this program funded?

The Homesharing Program is primarily funded through the generosity of two private donors who are committed to empowering LGBT older adults. In addition, a one-year grant was recently awarded to Center on Halsted for the Homesharing Program. In the future, as the program continues to grow, additional long-term funding sources will be sought.

How many matches have been made through the program so far?

We spent 6 months designing the program with particular emphasis on addressing legal and liability issues. The program was publically launched in December 2010 and since then we have on average 8 matches per year, involving 16 participants.  The feedback that we have received from the participants is that they are very pleased with their decision to apply to this program and that their Homesharing match has been very compatible.

What are your hopes for the future of the program?

We are looking to continue to build upon the success of the program to facilitate additional matches through the Chicagoarea. We also hope to assist other organizations serving LGBT older adults across the nation to replicate this program model.

Britta Larson is the Senior Services Director at Center on Halsted in Chicago, IL. She is responsible for overseeing the older adult programs and she manages the nation’s first homesharing program designed for LGBT older adults. She has an extensive background in senior living in the areas of social services and marketing. She is a Licensed Nursing Home Administrator and holds a Master’s degree in Nonprofit Management from North Park University.